Paul’s Place Begins Construction on $6.1-Million Restaurant and Culinary Arts Training Center in Pigtown

| November 6, 2019 | 0 Comments

Paul’s Place began construction last month on Groundwork Kitchen, a $6.1-million, almost 15,000 sq. ft. culinary arts training center, restaurant, and carryout shop. The project replaces a surface parking lot at 925 Washington Blvd. at the intersection of W. Cross St. in Pigtown.

Paul’s Place has been a part of the Pigtown community for 36 years. It started out as a small soup kitchen and formed into a community resource center at 1118 Ward St. providing hot meals, a food pantry, a nurses clinic, clothing, showers, laundry services, peer recovery, support groups, and other resources for those in need in Southwest Baltimore.

For many years the Groundwork Kitchen property had several three-story, boarded-up buildings that were offered up in RFPs by the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) for redevelopment. In 2012, the buildings were ultimately demolished and turned into a parking lot by a developer. Two adjacent rowhomes at 919 and 921 Washington Blvd. were kept and renovated as part of the project.

Looking for a home for the new culinary center, Paul’s Place purchased the parking lot in Fall 2017. The project has been in planning for four years and Paul’s Place Executive Director William McLennan was excited to find such an ideal property in Pigtown where the organization could continue to serve the community.

Alexander Design Studio is the architect on the project. The two-and-a-half story building is designed to fit in with the existing historical architecture in Pigtown. It has red brick exterior, large warehouse-style windows that are a nod to the industrial buildings in the area, and metal accents. The building will be lined with new landscaping. The main entrance will front Washington Blvd. and will have a set of stairs and a handicap ramp.

“Charles Alexander [of Alexander Design Studio] really understood this is the western entrance to Pigtown Main Street and an anchor property,” said McLennan. With large dining room windows facing the busy intersection, McLennan said it would be “eye catching.”

“This location is so important,” said McLennan referring to the 900 block of Washington Blvd. “We have Mobtown Ballroom, Suspended Brewing Company, and Milk & Honey Market [coming soon] and it’s really creating buzz. This project is about economic development, community development, and workforce development.”

As patrons enter the building, there will be a carryout shop that will have grab-and-go items like sandwiches, salads, and coffee. Behind the carryout shop is the dining room with two-and-half-story-high vaulted wood ceilings and lots of natural light with many windows and skylights. “We want the guests to feel comfortable and the students to feel inspired,” said McLennan.

It will have televisions so patrons can watch the local sports teams. It will seat about 100, but through interior design, it can be modified down for less busy shifts.

The commercial kitchen that will serve the restaurant, carryout shop, and catering business will be open to the dining room.

A mezzanine level will overlook the dining room and will be used for overflow dining, private parties, celebrity chef nights, and meeting space. The mezzanine will seat about 25.

The test kitchen, classroom, and locker rooms are in the basement.

Whiting-Turner is the contractor on the project. Paul’s Place is also working with CapEx Advisory.

McLennan said Groundwork will serve seasonal American fare that will include burgers, crab cakes, salads, and vegan options. “It is our goal to source as locally as possible,” said McLennan.

The carryout shop, which will likely be open for breakfast, will have the most casual food options. The restaurant menu will change for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch.

Groundwork will hire an executive chef in Spring 2020.

Groundwork will not have a sit-down bar, but it will have a service bar with beer, wine, and liquor drinks for dining room patrons.

Groundwork will give patrons the opportunity to make donations to support the mission while visiting. McLennan is still working out the logistics, but said it could be an extra tip line for donations or a separate transaction.

There will not be any dedicated parking, but Groundwork is working on partnerships to provide valet parking.

McLennan said the restaurant may not be open every day, but there will always be training and catering prep taking place in the building. He said the hours will reflect the needs of the neighborhood.

Groundwork will look to cater mostly for corporate luncheons and events. It already has a letter of support from University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The facility will have seven full-time employees and looks to graduate 60 men and women from Baltimore each year from the training program. Groundwork is willing to take students from the ages of 18 to 80.

Paul’s Place will partner with more than 30 restaurants, hotels, and catering companies to transition graduates into food industry jobs. Trainees will gain front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house experience and will get a SerSafe certification upon graduation. Students will get a stipend while they are in the program.

With the Light Rail only a short distance away, McLennan talked about the opportunity for graduates of the training program to work in the food service industry anywhere from BWI to Hunt Valley.

If students show initiative in becoming a chef, Groundwork will refer them to programs at Baltimore City Community College and Stratford University.

Staff members at Groundwork will include a recruiter who will lead a grassroots effort to find prospective students. They will work with high schools, shelters, re-entry programs, and more to find applicants. McLennan said they could also use this as an opportunity to offer job training to the “squeegee boys” from MLK Blvd. next to Pigtown.

Groundwork will also employ case managers and employee placement experts.

Groundwork is planning a soft opening in Fall 2020 and will begin its first class of students in March 2021.

The project is being funded though Chase New Market Tax Credit Program, The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, Neighborhood Improvement Impact Fund, Abell Foundation, T. Rowe Price Foundation, Enterprise Community Loan Fund, Cross Street Partners, a State of Maryland bond bill grant, and a loan. Paul’s Place is still fundraising and looks to raise $2.5 million for programmatic support and to pay back a bridge loan.

Paul’s Place worked with Sage Policy Group, Inc. to estimate the fiscal impact generated by the culinary arts training program and the organization’s other existing programs. The study stated that after the first year, Paul’s Place will support 122 jobs and nearly $12.2 million in annual economic activity.

Paul’s Place is also working with Catalyst Kitchens, an organization that incubates and launches food service job training social enterprises, on the project. Also a part of the Catalyst Kitchens network is Light House Homeless Prevention Support Center in Annapolis which launched Light House Bistro in 2017.

McLennan has made many trips to Light House Bistro and said the two organizations support each other with fundraising and technical assistance. He said other similar business models around the country include Inspiration Kitchen in Chicago and Fare Start in Seattle.

McLennan said the Groundwork project has been well supported by Pigtown Main Street, Citizens of Pigtown, and Southwest Partnership. It has also been endorsed by chef, food writer, and television host John B. Shields.

Groundwork Kitchen hosted a groundbreaking ceremony this week. “We are excited and humbled at the same time. This has been a two-year journey to get to the groundbreaking,” said McLennan. “This is an exciting day for Southwest Baltimore and the Paul’s Place Community. We are grateful to our many partners and supporters who made the dream become a reality.”

Renderings courtesy of Alexander Design Studio

Photos of the site from last year

The site before and during the demolition in 2012

Paul’s Place

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Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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